The Flipped Classroom: Pro and Con
In 2012, I attended the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in San Diego, California. Even though I was only there for 36 hours, it was simple for me to pick up on one of the most talked-about issues during the three-day event. Social lounges, conference sessions, the exhibit floor, the hashtag, and even dinner were all places where people were talking about “the flipped classroom.” People were curious as to what it was, what it wasn’t, how it was done, and why it was effective. The accolades of others were often accompanied by an example of how it was used in their classroom, as well as how it had improved learning outcomes for their students. Those who disagreed with the approach argued that it is not transformative in any way and that it continues to prioritize direct instruction from a sage on the stage rather than student-centered learning. Though I’m still on the fence about my sentiments toward the concept after participating in a number of these talks both offline and online, I can provide some insight and interpretation based on my personal experiences.
WHAT IT IS
Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day, written by flipped-classroom pioneers Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann and published by the American Society for Curriculum and Instruction (ASCD), describes how students watch recorded lectures for homework before completing assignments, labs, and tests in the classroom. In the first of a three-part series of papers, Bergmann, together with two co-authors, attempts to clarify some of the myths surrounding the flipped classroom. Part two of the series will be published later this year. For example, they claim that the flipped classroom is NOT effective “a slang term for watching films on the internet When the majority of people hear about flipped classes, the first thing that comes to mind is videos. The engagement and relevant learning activities that take place during the face-to-face time are the most significant aspects of the experience.”
It is further explained by the authors that the methodology is a combination of direct instruction and constructivism and that it makes it easier for students who may have missed class to keep up with the class because they may watch the videos at their convenience. As an additional benefit of students viewing and receiving teaching as homework, the claim is that they can spend class time working through any gaps or misunderstandings around the topic, with the teacher acting as a “guide on the side.” This is supported by research. Brian Bennett, another flipped classroom educator, made a blog post in which he explained that the concept is not about the videos, but rather about the learning. As a result of our conversation at ISTE, I had the opportunity to hear Brian articulate his opinions on the model in more than 140 characters. Additionally, he hosts the #flipclass talk on Twitter every Monday night, which is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the model.
WHAT IT ISN’T
Just as with any new fad or trend, there will be lots of people attempting to either profit from the concept or jump on the bandwagon without fully comprehending what they are getting themselves involved in. For example, the company TechSmith has devoted an entire section of its website to the flipped-classroom form of instruction. Now, I happen to believe that TechSmith produces excellent products and does an excellent job of having a finger on the pulse of educational trends. Although it is not known why TechSmith, a company that develops screencasting software, would be interested in the flipped-classroom concept, it is clear that they are. If it’s any consolation, their website does concentrate primarily on methodology and pedagogy, and they have contacted educators for the majority of their content. What I find worrisome is hearing companies on the exhibit floor at ISTE boast about how their product can help you “flip your class,” which is something I have never done before. If I were your typical principal or technical director wandering through the exhibit hall with little knowledge of the model, or with a misunderstanding of the model, I could easily wind up with the wrong information.
The Khan Academy has frequently come up in conversations about the flipped classroom, and I’ve seen and heard it mentioned myself. (I can almost hear a vendor exclaiming, “With our incredible display quality, your pupils will be able to watch videos in crisp detail!”) It is not the intention of some teachers to use KA videos in place of traditional classroom presentations or to replace the information as a whole, but rather to supplement them. According to my personal experience with KA, the subject is only taught in one method. Good instruction, particularly for mathematical topics, necessitates the presentation of ideas in a variety of ways. Furthermore, not all mathematics is concerned with the solution of equations. It is one of the most difficult aspects of teaching mathematics to ensure that pupils are not simply solving equations without fully comprehending what they are doing with the numbers they are given. Student success in the flipped-classroom model depends on videos that provide a variety of techniques similar to those found in a face-to-face lecture. Videos must also have high sound and image quality so that students can easily follow up with the instructions. These movies must also be aligned with the curriculum, standards, and labs or activities that the students will be participating in during class.
WHY IT WORKS
For the most part, the blog posts and conversations I’ve been reading and listening to emphasize how the flipped classroom allows children to receive truly personalized learning opportunities. Teachers share their experiences of how students are now able to go at their own pace, how they can review material when they need to, and how the teacher is then freed up to work one-on-one with students on the content that they most need assistance with. The possibility for students to readily catch up on missed lessons through the use of video and online course tools such as Edmodo or Haiku Learning is also emphasized by the authors. Furthermore, according to a 2009 meta-analysis conducted by the Department of Education, online learning has some advantages over face-to-face learning in several situations.
WHY DOESN’T WORK
It wasn’t long after I initially learned about the flipped-classroom paradigm that I concluded that it would be ineffective with my kids. Rural and urban educators alike continue to make this case. Our children simply do not have the access necessary for the approach to be truly effective in their classrooms. People have told me, “They can use the public library,” which I find amusing. This is followed by an explanation that there are normally three computers accessible and that each user is only allowed to stay for 30 minutes. People have told me, “You can burn DVDs that they can view in their DVD players,” and I’ve believed them. To which I respond by asking how much time a teacher can dedicate to burning at least 10-15 DVDs at a time during a day. In addition, I’ve been informed that pupils will be able to watch the movies after school in the school computer lab. I explain that we only have 27 computers available for the entire school and that it would be necessary to implement an after-school program to meet the needs of all students. (By the way, this last choice is the most realistic of the bunch.) Another difficult selling point for me is the fact that, if everyone starts flipping their classrooms, children will wind up spending hours every night in front of a screen watching the mandatory films, which I find difficult to accept. And, as any number of teachers will tell you, not everyone learns best in front of a computer screen.
WHY IT’S NOTHING NEW
One can’t help but assume that what Aaron Sams is describing doesn’t require any video at all when listening to him talk about his experience with the flipped-classroom concept while listening to him speak. He outlines in essence what John Dewey stated at the start of the twentieth century: learning that is based on the student rather than the teacher; learning that allows students to demonstrate their knowledge of the information in the manner that they prefer. These are not entirely novel ideas. Now and then, I’m led back to the question, “Are we doing things differently or are we doing things differently?” As instructors around the world attempt to flip their classrooms, it is critical to consider the following point.
WHY IT MATTERS
So, why should we be so concerned about the flipped-classroom approach, in the end? First and foremost, it forces teachers to examine their practices and reevaluate how they interact with their students to improve them. Teaching methods are being challenged, and teachers are being encouraged to incorporate technology into their lessons through the use of video and virtual classrooms such as Edmodo and other similar technologies, as well as other means. There is hope that some of Dewey’s philosophies will once again permeate our schools as long as learning remains the primary focus and as long as educators are constantly reflecting and asking themselves if what they are doing is truly something different or just a different way of doing the same things they have always done. It’s important to note that flipping is merely the beginning of the process.